Premier and province must put petroleum wealth to good use

Lana Payne
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Pundits and political junkies don't get many chances to use superlatives like they did last week.
Randy Simms of VOCM Open Line compared the Danny Williams victory to a blue tsunami. Memorial University political scientist Michael Temelini said the "repudiation of the Liberals was complete."
The Globe and Mail headline screamed, "Williams wallops the opposition in Newfoundland."
The undeniable popularity of the premier was too much for the floundering Liberals. Perhaps what was surprising is the story of the NDP - the-little-party-that-could. New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael fended off that big blue wave. Not only did she survive, but her victory was substantial and decisive.
She even managed to increase the party's popular vote - no easy feat when you're running against a leader who was likened to a rock star during the three-week election campaign.
Now that the pundits have had their say, the real work begins. Premier Danny Williams' biggest challenge may not be managing the expectations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, as has been predicted by many political observers.
The real challenge may not even be delivering on his dream of turning Newfoundland and Labrador into a "have province," developing the Lower Churchill or negotiating with Big Oil.
The biggest problem the premier may face is managing his own crowd - 42 ragingly different personalities. And with a tiny Opposition, it will be, at times, very difficult to maintain solidarity among the PC ranks.

Coming discontent
When you have an effective opposition, it's easier to find something to build solidarity around. There are clearly drawn sides. But without that pressure, discontent can brew. Sometimes it's not your enemies you have to worry about, it's your friends.
It would indeed be unfortunate if internal troubles take away from the job that needs doing. This does provide a good reason for the premier to consider adequately funding the opposition parties. Of course, this will also give democracy a boost over the next four years.
In the case of citizens' expectations, the premier hasn't been one to shy away from building hopes.
Indeed, his campaign was largely based on hope. He managed to tap into that one thing we all share - our passion for this place. Is it nationalistic rhetoric? Probably. Does he believe it? It appears he does.
Like most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, I have a few hopes, too.
I hope democracy is not diminished because of the overwhelming majority received by the Progressive Conservatives.
I hope oil wealth is used to build a society of which we can all be proud - where no one gets left behind. We need to make sure prosperity does not cause a growing gap between the rich and the rest, between women and men, and between urban and rural.
Prosperity must translate into progress, into social inclusion. Otherwise, we'll be a smaller version of Alberta, where economic development has gone haywire with little attention being paid to the social needs that come with unfettered growth.
On election night, Williams quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, who was known for his progressive policies, and who believed government had a role to play in people's lives, in making those lives better.
"The test of our progress," Roosevelt said (and the premier quoted), "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
It is this promise made last Tuesday night by Williams that I will be counting on. It will be up to all of us to hold him to that commitment.
And it's no wonder the premier consistently points out the differences between his party and that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He did so again on election night. Being a fan of Roosevelt, the premier is probably familiar with another quote by the former U.S. president.
"A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward."
I would say this describes Stephen Harper to a tee.
After all, who'd take an entire $14-billion surplus and pay it all down on the debt when tens of thousands of our citizens are homeless; when fewer than 20 per cent of Canadian kids have access to affordable and high-quality child care and early learning programs; when northern communities endure poverty comparable to Third World countries; when a million Canadian children are poor?
This is what Harper has chosen to do with the huge federal surplus.
Only someone standing still with no dream, no imagination, of what is possible would do that.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement.
Her column returns Oct. 28.

Organizations: Globe and Mail, Progressive Conservatives, Third World

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, United States, Alberta

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